Scenes from Cheese Journey’s Philadelphia and Chester County Tour

Dinner in a vineyard. A kitchen table cheese tasting with the award-winner makers at Doe Run Farm. An after-hours party at my favorite cheese shop in Philadelphia’s Italian Market. Ohhh, lovers, these are just a few of the glorious dairy highlights from my recent Philadelphia & Chester County Cheese Getaway organized by the fabulous Anna Juhl of Cheese Journeys. If you missed it, don’t panic. Anna and I are co-leading this food tour again next year. Block out October 5-8, 2018 on your calendar and write “CHEESE JOURNEY” in big letters because this might be the best four days of your dairy-loving future.

Now, let me show you what you’re in for. Our recent tour was both educational and sumptuous, starting with a house tour of the beautiful Inn at Grace Winery, our home base, where we enjoyed a different Chester County cheese and wine pairing in each room. In the cellar, we fell hard for Grace Winery’s subtle rosé and a round of Doe Run’s new Camembert-style cheese, paired with Chef Scott Megill’s beet mostarda.

The cheese boards on our house tour previewed later parts of our journey, like our visit to Doe Run’s cheese cave, where we spent an afternoon with Sam and Stacey Kennedy. We also visited the wood studio of John Luttman (Artifaqt Design), who provided all of our cheese serving ware for the journey. And we traveled to the dairy farm of Sue and Ken Miller to meet the cows who contribute to Sue’s wonderful Birchrun Blue, a signature cheese from Chester County.

Of course, our getaway included a few non-dairy diversions, like a private tea tasting with Alexis Siemons of Teaspoons & Petals, who delighted us one rainy afternoon with four cups of tea, including a stunning Ruby Oolong, paired with sweets.

After tea, we mozied through my home neighborhood of Fishtown, to pop by a few of my favorite food haunts, like Rowhouse Spirits — a one-man distillery run by my friend Dean Browne. Dean fortified us with tastings of his gin, aquavit, rum, and amaro before we strolled around the corner for a gallery talk with cheese portrait painter Mike Geno.

Mike plied us with some of his favorite subjects from his walls, including bites of Winter Fury, a rare cheese from Alaska.

Then, it was off to Di Bruno Bros. in the Italian Market for a “cheese lock-in,” as I like to call it. The mongers closed the store, lit candles, and prepared bite after bite of delicious cheese and charcuterie while we nibbled on olives and sampled jams and mustards from the shelves. Restraint, there was not.

Luckily, we built some exercise into the tour — like a walk through the Italian Market with legendary cheese lover Emilio Mignucci, Di Bruno Bros’ VP. He gave us his favorite restaurant tips (Anastasi’s mussels in red sauce) and shared his favorite “car snack” (the taralli from Termini Bros., where we stopped for a behind- the-scenes tour and cannoli tasting). And we learned about Emilio’s favorite lunch in high school, PB&J on a Sarcone’s roll.

Whenever we felt parched, Anna appeared with refreshments.

So we never went thirsty.

Of course, there were meals. Very special meals, like dinner in the kitchen at Talula’s Table in Kennet Square. And a picnic with some very special Holsteins.

It’s impossible to imagine a more perfect tour, a mix of city strolls and relaxing afternoons in the Pennsylvania countryside. We even made it to an exotic mushroom farm and spent an afternoon at Artisan Exchange Market — an incubator for small-batch food producers in West Chester — that included a tour of Levante Brewing.

Next October, I hope you’ll join us for another getaway! I’ll be there, sharing photography tips, shaking cocktails in the barn, and showing you how to create stunning cheese boards at home. A huge thank you to all of this year’s participants and to the many cheese angels who made our 4-day getaway so incredible.

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Tickets to More Cheese Events:  Don’t miss the September 24 Hootenanny at Lundale Farm in Pottstown, PA featuring Birchrun Hills Farm cheeses, cider, and square dancing. On September 28 in Philadelphia, check out Alexis Siemons’ Fall Tasting: An Evening of Linens, Cheese, Tea, Bread, and Honey. On October 12, sit down with the dames from Collective Creamery at High Street on Market for a special cheese dinner; for reservations, call (215) 625-0988.

Now, for Free Cocktails! I’ll be at the Brooklyn Book Festival this week to offer a free talk and tasting called “Cocktails Go to the Movies” with André Darlington. It’s part of my sibling side project, With the Darlingtons. Come join me for this free book event on September 13 at 6 p.m. at WeWork Dumbo Heights! We’ll be signing copies of our latest book, TCM’s Movie Night Menus.

 

Leslie Uhl’s Grate Escape

I used to love getting cheese advice from a cheesemonger named Leslie Uhl, who worked at Di Bruno Bros. Leslie had a glittering personality and a taste for unusual pairings; she once handed me a nibble of Gorgonzola topped with raspberry-chocolate jam and crushed coffee beans. It was brilliant. Last summer, she quit her job to spend a year traveling with Workaway, a website that helps travelers set up work or volunteer positions abroad.

For the last year, I have been following Leslie’s “grate escape,” as she calls it, via Instagram (@thegrateescape). We caught up recently via email, and I asked Leslie if she’d share a few stories about cheesing abroad. If you know her, then you’ll enjoy hearing about Leslie’s new beau and her campfire fondue. If you don’t know Leslie, may you be inspired by her story of leaving the cheese counter behind for a series of country rambles.

1. After 4 years of working in the cheese industry, you quit your job, sold most of your possessions, and committed yourself to a year of wandering the globe. Tell us where you’ve been for the last 365 days.

I purchased a one-way ticket to Australia, so I headed first to Sydney and central New South Wales, then South Australia, Victoria, and breathtaking Tasmania. I flew into Christchurch, New Zealand after 3 months in Aussie, spent half a year living on the South Island, and then popped over to see Ireland, Wales, and Great Britain over (this hemisphere’s) Summer! Back to New Zealand, and my temporary home on the Banks Peninsula, in less than a week. Who knows what’s next – I’m as good at making plans as I am at resisting a cheese plate.

2. Your Instagram has a running dairy theme, from a package of Lincolnshire Poacher you found at a pitstop in England to a pot of ricotta you stood stirring in New Zealand on Halloween. Tell us about a couple of dairy highlights.

My entire life has a running dairy theme, and thank all the goodness – I’ve been blessed with fabulous cheese experiences so far. I was very proud of a cheesecake I baked one night while living in a tiny caravan in the middle of the Australian outback, and I made the BEST fondue with bits of leftover blue, goat, cheddar, and Brie cheese over a fire while camping in the Grampians. The cheese shops in the U.K. are so much fun to visit, and I loved seeing Sheridan’s Cheesemongers in Galway, Ireland in particular. I’m also lucky enough to live up the road from a Swiss farmer in New Zealand who sells me raw cow’s milk to make fresh ricotta and mozzarella at home!

3. Aside from cheese, have you developed other food obsessions?

I think I can self-diagnose with Chronic Food Obsession in general. Happy to have discovered that Aussie, NZ, and the U.K. find it more than acceptable to pour thickened cream over almost anything, including ice cream! That means a dairy double-down on desserts, about which I am over the moon. I definitely have a fish and chips habit, and my high-quality meat and fresh seafood intake is spoiling me rotten – no acute cravings for Vegemite or Marmite yet. Yet! Oh, and airplane food. I’m obsessed with airplane food.

Leslie and her mom in New Zealand

4. Can you give us a list of your travel essentials? What’s in your backpack that you couldn’t live without?

To be honest, nothing! There’s nothing that I couldn’t live without at this point, and that makes me a blend of proud, humble, and resilient. I’ve seen some less-than-ideal situations over the past year, and there’s no object that’s ever pulled me through. (Wait, does whiskey count?? I didn’t technically pack that…) But in all seriousness, it’s good company, good food, and a beautiful setting that I’m finding essential for my life right now. I will admit that sometimes a tube of toothpaste is the difference between feeling like a civilized human and turning completely wild.

5. Who is the most interesting person you have met on the road?

Ooo mama, I could write stacks of books about the people I’ve met. Farmers, artists, gypsies, chefs, and bankers from Turkey, Latvia, Austria, Malaysia, Brazil, and so many other corners of the earth. It’s hard to choose just one, actually, and I’m going to engage super-cheesy mode and pick two. First, my partner, who I met in New Zealand – he’s Welsh, an engineer by trade, and he spent a few years traveling through Africa and Asia before falling for NZ and spending the last 6 years there. He has a fascinating heritage (and native language) and it thrills me to no end to hear his many stories and opinions on life. And the second (get ready to groan) has to be me. The more time I spend outside of my comfort zone, listening, learning, and experiencing new things, the more I find my horizons expanding. My perceived limitations have been broken, rebuilt, and re-broken so many times and in such different ways, I can hardly explain what metamorphosis has taken place. I feel differently, I act differently, and there’s some key pieces of human empathy and shared experience that I’ve found along the way. Most importantly, though, I’m finding that what makes me interesting is my many interests – in other places, activities, art forms, science, nature, food, and above all, people. If you want to be interesting, be interested.

6. Do you have any advice for others who would like to follow in your footsteps and go nomadic for a year?

Same advice I have for bungee jumping, shots of Fireball, and eating haggis – Don’t overthink it, just do it. The best things I’ve done recently have been a result of under-planning, in fact, and I’m a huge supporter of spontaneity in all things. My travel motto is, if I’m happy, I stay; if I’m unhappy, I go. Change adjectives and verbs to suit, but the basic principle is the same. Also, pack light (see above).

7. Has distance given you any insights into the state of American cheese or cheesemongering as a profession?

My insights into all things American have downright exploded, thanks to everyone, everywhere sharing their outsider’s perspectives with me, 99% unsolicited. Maybe “outsights” is a better term, but with regards to cheese and the industry, I’m disappointed at what little knowledge exists about American cheeses. I still get the question “What’s your favorite cheese?” roughly every other day, but now I instinctively add the prefix, “You’ve never heard of it, but…” There is still a massive stigma about U.S. food products and our eating culture as a whole, which I try valiantly to overturn. I do wish the rest of the world, especially Europe, would spend some more time importing our cheeses for a change and giving due respect or, frankly, mere acknowledgement to our incredible food scene! Being the underdog can be really frustrating.

8. Where are you at this very moment, and what is the last thing you ate?

Right now I’m sitting at a cafe in Stratford-Upon-Avon in the U.K., and I’m picking at (read: scarfing down between questions) a latte and a steak and cheese toastie with pickles and mustard, (locally sourced, of course, of course).

9. Are there any shout-outs you’d like to offer, or unasked questions you want to answer?

Huge shout-out to the cheese heads back in the states! I miss being part of such a diverse, passionate, and accepting community. Consider me a cheese missionary, spreading the Curd Word across the nations. And of course, mad love to friends and family who have been nothing but supportive and proud from a distance.

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Cheesing on Instagram? I’m working on a post about some of my fave IG accounts. If you have a favorite account you follow that involves a cheese counter, cheesemonger, cheesemaker, or cheese-centric cook, drop me a line! You can always find me @mmefromage

Want to go to Puglia? My neighbor Betsy Spivak is leading a trip in November with a 10-day stay at a masseria. You might remember that I co-lead a couple workshops in Puglia a few years back. Betsy got inspired to do the same and has connected with a wonderful host who teaches cooking classes using regional foods. Check out Puglia with a Local.

Cheese Pop-Ups and Tours

Lover, I hope your summer is splendid and that you are entering August with lots of creamy burrata. Me? I’m in Wisconsin for a few weeks, eating Widmer’s Brick on my brother’s dock and piling soft cheese onto bowls full of julienned raw veg and oodles of Zoodles. Yes, Planet Darlington has entered its chia moon, so life is all kombucha cocktails and balance bowls around here. Are we finding balance? Wellll, I am pretending not to see all the little piles of chaos (book edits, moving boxes, etc.) around me as I type. “Feathery chevre” is my mantra, and I am inventing some cheese-squeezing mudras.

For August, here are my centering offerings for the third eye of your cheese mind:

Cheese & Ferment Pop-Up Supper, August 22: Join me in Philadelphia for an end-of-summer “Friends & Neighbors Interactive Community Dinner” organized by Shayna Marmar of Honeypie Cooking. Shayna has run this series all summer, and it’s a lovely family-style affair where you can meet other cool food-loving locals over a delicious meal at a long table. Her theme for August brings together some of my favorite people around my favorite foods: local cheese and homemade pickles. Cheese will be provided by the awesome dames of Collective Creamery, an entrepreneurial cheese CSA project launched by cheesemakers Sue Miller and Stefanie Angstadt. They’ll be there, along with their right hand grrrrl, Alex Jones. Fermentation specialist Mike Landers of Martha will offer pickle pairings, and we’ll walk you through a tasting. Martha’s super sours, cocktails, and wines can be ordered from the bar to pair.  (Dinner:  7:30 p.m. at Martha 2113 E. York St., Philadelphia – Tickets required $35)

The Women of Collective Creamery (Sue, Stef, Alex)

Cheese Tour of Philadelphia & Chester County: There are two spots left for my Labor Day weekend in Chester County and Philadelphia with Cheese Journeys, an incredible food tour company based in New York. Join me for three nights at the Inn at Grace Winery and come with me to visit some of my fave cheesemakers, including The Farm at Doe Run. The farm is stunning, and the cheesemakers just won a trove of awards at the American Cheese Society (read: Cheese Oscars) in Denver! (For Booking Details and a full itinerary: Cheese Journeys)

Pssst…keep an eye out for the September calendar at COOK. Chef Ari Miller is hosting a cocktail dinner there on September 6, and he invited my brother André and me to join him. Together, we’ve collaborated on a beautiful menu, and most of the drinks are from our jointly written book, The New Cocktail Hour. (Secret menu reveal: Champagne sundaes with homemade ice cream for dessert!)

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What have I forgotten, beautiful people? I sense the universe has many more cheese offerings for August, but my head is in the stars.

Photo credits for this post: @Kenzicrash

 

 

Mike Geno’s Cheese Map

By now, you’ve heard me talk about my friend and neighbor Mike Geno, who paints cheese portraits. His studio is less than a mile from my house, and when I need a pick-me-up I wander over to bask in the light of his dairy-centric wall of food art.

This week, I visited him to discuss two important things: 1) he’s offering a summer sale of his paintings through August (details below) AND, 2) he’s almost finished with his cheese map!

A cheese map? Yassss, queen.

So, The Cheese Map

Two years ago, Mike set out to paint a wedge from every state. At the time, he’d painted hunks from eleven, but his patrons wanted more. A cheese from Alaska? Mike wasn’t sure. A cheese from Hawaii? He had to ponder.

Thanks to word of mouth and the power of social media, Mike’s project exploded as a hot topic on Istagram (follow him @mikegenostudio). Today, his map is nearly complete. He’s received cheese offerings from 43 states, mostly shipped to him on ice from cheesemakers.

Alaska? Uh huh. Cheesemaker Sarah Jepson in Dry Creek learned about Mike via Instagram (her handle is @milkmansfirstwife) and sent him a wheel of Winter Fury made with her hothouse peppers and the milk of her husband’s six cows. Her daughter-in-law Amaris also sent Mike a wheel of her Tuscan-style Pepato.

Hawaii? Oh, yes. Check out Ocean Brie-eeze, a black Brie colored with Squid Ink.

Obtaining cheese from warm-weather states has proven difficult, like Arizona. “Actually a cheesemonger at Di Bruno Bros. is from Arizona, and he reached out to Wendell and Rhonda Crow at Crow’s Dairy,” Mike recalls. The Crows agreed to send Mike a wheel of their peppercorn feta and were so touched by the connection that they are planning a trip to Denver later this month to meet him at the American Cheese Society (ACS) conference.

Winter Fury (Alaska)

“People who are farming all day or working in a cheese room don’t think about the art world,” Mike said, as he cut into a blue from Winter Park Dairy in Florida, a sweet and spicy little number called Black & Bleu with veins of ground black pepper. “Something about the cheese map has allowed me to connect with them,” he mused. “Representing their art in my art — on this map — there is this whole new level of relating to each other.”

So, what states are left for Mike to paint? Nevada. South Dakota. Wyoming. Kentucky. Louisiana. Mississippi. Wyoming.

If you know a cheesemaker in one of those states, contact Mike Geno (mikegeno@gmail.com).

Mike Geno’s Summer Sale

Through August, Mike Geno is offering a 15% discount on all of his original oil paintings, including his paintings of cheese, meat, bread, doughnuts, etc. If you’re a big spender, you can buy 3 and get the 4th for free. (One of Mike’s patrons owns 39, just sayin’. There are cheese lovers, and then there are CHEESE LOVERS.) Visit his website, explore the cheese map, and put a piece of original cheese art in your kitchen. Or boudoir.

Pssst…Mike Geno’s studio is one of the stops on September’s Cheese Journey to Philadelphia and Chester County. We still have a few spots left!

 

 

Scenes from Philadelphia’s Cheese Flashmob

This story needs few words. A city full of cheese lovers. A local bar with a beautiful patio and a cheese-loving owner. A few weeks of online word-spreading.

All it takes is a couple of organizers (hat tip: Matt Buddah) and someone with a bunch of cheese boards (okay, I happen to have a few, and so does Mike Geno).

Then, you bring in the baker. (Alex Bois, your beet rye will always live on in my mind.)

And make sure your local cheesemakers (Yoav Perry, Stefanie Angstadt) get beads around their neck. Always, always honor thy cheesemakers.

Name tags are important, too. What’s a cheese party without easy conversation? I’m a fan of French name tags…and it’s important to let people adopt a nom de plum, should they wish. Last night, we had a few Lady Goudas and at least one Havarti.

Pictured above: Paul and Sean from Cherry Grove Farm, and Pete Demchur from Shellbark Hollow. Between them, they brought a stunning goat tomme and a wild raw-milk round called Trilby, which Sean and Paul wrapped in a whisky-soaked fig leaf.

A small helper helps. (Thank you Mia from Merion Park Cheese Co.!)

And so does at least one conceptual cheese carrier, like this “Comfort Cheese” presentation by my very own brother, André Darlington.

The party makes itself.

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Huge thanks to our hosts at Martha, our neighborhood cheese clubhouse here in Philadelphia. My co-organizer, the fabulous cheesemonger Matt Buddah, was amazing. Our local cheese gang is called The Rennet Rough Riders (#rennetroughriders on Instagram). Find us. Join us. Or just plan a cheese flashmob where you live. Ask everyone to bring a cheese. Make it free. Get wild. Build community.